Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hillbillys In A Haunted House

Believe it or not, this dreary 1967 musical/horror/comedy is a sequel to the Woolner Brothers’ THE LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS. It's hard to imagine adults queueing up to see it, no matter how fanatical they were about its cast of country music singers. The action and humor seems aimed at a much younger audience, but the film presumably copies the formula of 1966's LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS. HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE was the final feature for director Jean Yarbrough, whose 35-year career included RKO shorts and Abbott & Costello films, and the esteemed character actor Basil Rathbone.

Country singer Ferlin Husky returns from LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS as country singer Woody Wetherby, who’s traveling with cohorts Boots Malone (platinum blonde Joi Lansing) and Jeepers (Don Bowman) in a convertible with bull horns strapped to the hood to a jamboree in Nashville. A wicked thunderstorm strands them in a dilapidated old country home, which is purported by the locals to be haunted, but is actually the base of operations for a group of spies. The reluctant visitors encounter rattling chains, rotating portraits, and bats on strings. Wooooo, scary!

The concept is similar to a Bowery Boys programmer from two decades earlier, but the writing and performing are even worse (Bowman is especially clumsy as the unfunny “comic” relief). Grizzled old Lon Chaney Jr. steals a top-secret rocket formula by donning a white lab coat, walking boldly onto a missile base, and chatting up the janitor to gain access to a locked office. It’s kinda fun to see old pros Rathbone, Chaney, and John Carradine hamming it up (with George Barrows as Anatole, their pet ape) as the heavies. As pathetic as this film is, they do look as though they’re enjoying themselves. More than we are, I imagine.

Duke Yelton’s plot really exists only as an excuse to string together a bunch of country-western songs by Husky, Merle Haggard, Sonny James, and others. James literally wanders onto the set, sings two songs, and leaves. Haggard is seen singing on a television watched by an insomniac Jeepers. To be fair, some of the reverb-heavy songs, such as James’ “The Cat Came Back,” are pretty good and probably made Southern drive-in audiences happy.

Richard Webb (CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT) plays a good-guy agent. Jim Kent, Marcella Wright, Molly Bee, and Lansing also sing. The pneumatic Lansing, who replaced LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS’ Mamie Van Doren as Boots, was appearing on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES at the time. She sadly died of breast cancer in 1972 at age 43.


Hal said...

I really need to see this, just for the cast.

Joi Lansing made a handful of appearances on BEVERLY HILLBILLIES as Lester Flatt's wife, but to see her at her best, check her out on LOVE THAT BOB (aka THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW) as Shirley Swanson, probably Bob's top model.

Booksteve said...

I actually recall my parents taking me to see this new in the theater! I also recall that said theater was more crowded than most recent films I've attended and that there was applause at the end!

Not long afterwards, my family was traveling by Greyhound through the South and at a stop a guy bummed money off my dad claiming to be Ferlin Husky. Having just recently seen the film, I thought he looked enough like him he COULD be...after a bender. My dad gave him five bucks.

Rathbone and Carradine went into Autopsy of a Ghost in Mexico afterwards, Rathbone's last film.

In recent years, Linda Blair's name has been rumored to be attached to a potential remake that has thankfully yet to materialize!

Anonymous said...

AS a kid I saw this at a Saturday Kiddee Matinee(Remember those??) and recall liking it.A few years ago I saw it again on dvd and while not a very good movie,it was neat to go back in time,if just for an hour and a half. Now where is Ghost Of Dragstrip Hollow when you need it?